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Tom McDonald

Dr Tom McDonald

Assistant Professor

+852 3917 1105

9.14, 9/F., The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus


My main research interests concern the role of technology in contemporary Chinese society. My work is dedicated to using ethnographic engagement to achieve a richer understanding of how the material world impacts upon Chinese society, social relationships and kinship.

My first co-authored book How the World Changed Social Media was published by UCL Press in February 2016. It details the findings of the UCL Why We Post project, an ERC-funded comparative ethnographic study on the use and consequences of social media around the world.

As part of this project, I personally undertook 15-months ethnographic fieldwork examining social media use in the Chinese countryside. My solely-authored monograph resulting from this fieldwork, Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks, was also published through UCL Press in September 2016.

I have also co-created and teach on a new, free interactive course named Why We Post: The Anthropology of Social Media on the FutureLearn platform, which will run at regular intervals throughout 2017. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about our research and I warmly welcome anyone with an interest in social media or anthropology to register for the course today!

My current research centres on the adoption of digital money platforms amongst migrant workers in China, examining the effects such platforms have across a range of everyday exchange practices and infrastructures, with a particular focus on consumption, savings, investment, and remittances.

Courses taught

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PhD Anthropology
University College London

MRes Anthropology
University College London

BSc Anthropology
University College London

Research interests

Social relationships
Material culture

Current research

Digital money and migration in China: Contemporary monetary practices and imagined economic futures (Principal Investigator, Hong Kong Research Grants Council Early Career Scheme Award)

Social media and morality in rural China (as part of the European Research Council funded Why We Post project)

Honours and recognitions


HKU Early Career Teaching Award (2018)

HKU Faculty of Social Sciences, Outstanding Teaching Award (2017-18)

Learned societies:

Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute

Member, European Association of Social Anthropologists

Selected publications


McDonald, T. (2016). Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks. London: UCL Press.

Miller, D., et al., (2016) How the World Changed Social Media. London: UCL Press

Journal articles:

McDonald, T. (Forthcoming). Strangership and Social Media: Moral Imaginaries of Gendered Strangers in Rural ChinaAmerican Anthropologist. [Open Access version]

Miller, D., et al. (2017 [Online first]). Contemporary Comparative Anthropology – The Why We Post Project. Ethnos.

McDonald, T. (2016). Senses, Sociality and Salons: Medicinal Hospitality in a Chinese Hair-Dresser’s Salon. Ethnos, 81(2), 189-213.

Chan, J.H., et al. (2016) The role of self-gentrification in sustainable tourism: Indigenous entrepreneurship at Honghe Hani Rice Terraces World Heritage Site, ChinaJournal of Sustainable Tourism. 24 (8-9): 1262-1279.

McDonald, T. (2015). Affecting relations: domesticating the internet in a south-western Chinese town. Information, Communication & Society, 18 (1), 17-31.

McDonald, T. (2011). “Cowboy Cloth” and kinship: The closeness of denim consumption in a south-west Chinese city. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 9 (1), 76-89.

Book chapters:

McDonald, T. & Sinanan, J. (2017) ‘Ethnography’. In Burgess, J., A. Marwick and T. Poell (eds) The Sage Handbook of Social Media, London: Sage.

McDonald, T., Nicolescu, R., & Sinanan, J. (2017) ‘Small places turned inside out: social networking in small communities’. In Hjorth, L., H. Horst, A. Galloway and G. Bell (eds) The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography, London: Routledge. 89-101.

McDonald, T. (2015). Desiring mobiles, desiring education: mobile phones and families in a rural Chinese Town. In S. S. Lim (Ed.), Mobile Communication and the Asian family: transforming technologies, changing households. Dordrecht: Springer.

Chan, J. H., Zhang, Y., McDonald, T., & Qi, X. G. (2015). Sustainable tourism in indigenous community: Entrepreneurship and economic development in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In K. Iankova, A. Hassan (Eds.), Indigenous People and Economic Development: An International Perspective. London: Gower.

See all publications in HKU Scholars Hub →